So Blaine Hudson was subbed again on Saturday. To be withdrawn is unusual for a centre back; to be subbed three games in a row is highly irregular. Yet his performance at Southport marked a turning point for him, Sometimes there’s more to the story than the bare statistics imply.
I can’t deny that he made a costly mistake at Halifax. I equally can’t deny that it’s happened before: the second goal at Bromley was oddly similar, with Hudson allowing the ball to run across him in the box, apparently unaware a player was coming up behind him, and the resulting goal coming from something which was more of a lunging tackle than a shot. However, I refuse to accept that those facts constitute a reason to make him our scapegoat.
There seems to have been quite a lot of criticism of Hudson in the last week. I understand that: criticism and mistakes come with the territory when you’re a defender. To single Hudson out is unfair though.
I think we need to remind ourselves of exactly what Hudson is and what he brings to the squad. I’d be inclined to see Jamal Fyfield and Manny Smith as our first choice central defensive pair, and if that’s the case, Hudson is a very handy player to have in reserve. He’s especially useful if we ensure that he plays to his strengths.
Hudson has put in a number of very good performances this season, but I accept that they are governed by the way the game plays out and how well he manages his expectations of himself.
In essence, I’d say the higher our defensive line is, the less happy Hudson is. When we find ourselves defending our penalty area, he comes into his own. His best performance was an excellent display of centre back play at Borehamwood, which showcased exactly what he’s good at. If you pile the ball into our penalty area, Hudson will attack it all day.
I recall Andy Morrell explaining that what he liked about Leon Clowes was that he did the ugly bits of a centre back’s game well. He headed the ball, tackled and hacked it out of the danger area. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective, and Hudson excels in those rudimentary but crucial defensive tasks. We need to make sure his mind is clear and he focusses on doing those things, rather than let the ball drop behind him and try to do something less clear cut, as he did at Halifax and Bromley.
Let’s be clear here: categorising Hudson’s strengths like that is not meant to be an insult. Quite the contrary. How many times do we hear that you need a big, strong, nasty centre back to get out of the Conference? Well, that’s what Hudson is!
Furthermore, Hudson showed real character at Southport. His performance represented a gutsy turnabout after his experiences in the previous two games, and for what it’s worth I wouldn’t have withdrawn him. This time his substitution was for tactical reasons as we switched from three at the back to a 4-2-4 to chase the game. Yet he’d been the best of our three centre backs, and I’d have also retained him for the threat he poses from set pieces.
Hudson has always looked less happy when the defensive line is high and the ball is played in behind him. I have to be honest and say that at the start of last season I was genuinely alarmed by that weakness, and feared he’d struggle to meet our standards. However, he has improved massively in that respect and although dealing with the ball behind him is still an issue, he has clearly worked on it. And anyway, which defender likes to be turned? And which one doesn’t have a weakness?
So I won’t be joining the complaints about Hudson, Yes, he has limitations, but that’s why he’s in the Conference and not playing for Barcelona. He’s an honest, hard-working servant of the club with the attributes to contribute to a promotion push, and should be judged in context. All I am saying is give Blaine a chance.